500 million and counting

Yesterday, the world’s largest social networking hub Facebook announced that it had reached its 500 millionth member. It has far exceeded the expectations its founder Mark Zuckerberg had when he set it up in 2004, and now there are projections being made that given the rate of its growth – it had some 100 million two years ago – its 1 billion user mark is not far off.

Facebook has also outgrown its ‘social networking’ status. Social networking is said to be the grouping of individuals into communities or a neighbourhood subdivision, if you will. And though it can be done in person, social networking is most popular online, with Facebook eclipsing other websites such as MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. But because of the diversity of its users, Facebook has become way more than a place to meet friends, renew friendships, share photos and thoughts and stay in touch.

It has become a sort of hub where when users sign in they no longer have to check other websites unless they want to. A chat window is available, negating the need for instant messaging (IM) sign in – unless of course a user has a contact who is not on Facebook. As unlikely as this might seem to some who are on Facebook, it is not unheard of; the world population is approaching 7,000,000,000, Facebook’s population is just about 7.1% of that.

Real time news is available to any Facebook user who has linked with his/her favourite news organisation, but more than that, news is also relayed via other users. Games are available; some of them, including the very popular ville-suffix games are exclusive to Facebook. Others, just as captivating like Bejewelled Blitz and Family Feud which were online favourites before were probably put there to keep members from straying.

It has also been noted as a place to advertise and companies use the site for marketing targeting customers based on the demographic data they volunteer on their profiles.

World leaders and personalities like Barack and Michelle Obama, David Cameron, Stephen Harper and others have Facebook pages where the subjects they want ventilated are posted and where friends/fans can comment. This is one way of garnering/measuring support for a particular issue. In addition, almost every world leader has a Wiki-type Facebook page where basic information about him/her is posted, but which is not interactive although persons can indicate whether or not they like the page and become fans/friends.

One suspects however that world leaders may not have the time to update their status or read and reply to comments and that this is done by aides who would then pass on any salient information. On the other hand, many celebrities – actors, singers, and what not – actually post their own information.  That said, it should be noted also that some world leaders and celebrities have more than one Facebook account – one might have been set up by a really zealous fan or there may be a Wiki-type one.

Intrusion of this sort as well as the targeted marketing has seen invasion of privacy and attacks by spammers, to which the site responded with some amount of alacrity; though it has been pilloried for its reactivity.

Facebook also has another downside. Although its minimum age to join is now set at 13, many children who are much younger have signed up – faking their ages to appear older. In so doing they have opened themselves to being coached and attacked by predators because it would seem that regardless of the amount of awareness and sensitization to this issue being preached too many parents either turn a blind eye to or are oblivious of the fact that their underage children are on Facebook. This is the type of policing that needs to be done at home since no one in cyberspace can guess what a person’s age is if they choose to conceal it.

Finally, the question has been asked, after Facebook then what? Zuckerberg sees no end to Facebook. “… it’s still all about the site being personal and relevant for every individual. We really still think of ourselves as at the beginning of the journey.”

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